One in five North Texas children lives in poverty, and more than a quarter million are hungry as their parents struggle to feed them.
Those are just a few statistics from a recent 97-page report issued by Children’s Health, the Dallas-based children’s hospital network. The study offers possible solutions, too.
The Beyond ABC report only looks at the well-being of children in parts of North Texas, specifically six counties: Dallas, Collin, Denton, Cooke, Grayson and Fannin. It has come out every two years since the late 1990s.
How health affects education
The rate of uninsured kids in Dallas County, as well as Cooke, Fannin and Grayson counties is double the national average. The report says more than 500,000 Texas children lack health insurance, and nearly half of the kids in Dallas County kids are enrolled in Medicaid. The study finds children living in poverty are seven times more likely to be in poor or fair health.
Health has a direct impact on education. Yet, low-income parents may be hesitant to get medical care for their kids for several reasons, including cost. Children’s Health points to its telemedicine program as a way to help.
For example, if a child’s sick in school, he or she usually goes to the nurse. Then, the parent typically gets called, has to leave work, possibly lose pay, then get to a doctor’s office by car, bus or a friend. Dr. Stormee Williams, who oversees the telehealth program with more than 100 school partners, says telemedicine offers another option.
“We can call in, have a live video interaction,” Williams said. “The nurse has an electronic stethoscope, otoscope, dermscope, so that, live, we can diagnose ear infections, look at the throat, listen to lungs in a child with asthma, and actually make a diagnosis and treat if necessary and send prescriptions, electronically.”
Dallas' problem with poverty
The report also finds one in five North Texas kids lives in poverty and offers another way to look at that.
Nearly 500,000 children in North Texas qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. Food insecurity in all of the six counties in the study exceeds the national average.
In the Dallas school district, 90 percent of the students are considered low-income.
Mike Koprowski used to be with Dallas ISD, and while he’s concerned about the poverty rates in Dallas, he’s even more concerned about neighborhood segregation in Dallas. He calls Dallas one of the most segregated cities by race and income in the country.
“When you have areas of concentrated poverty, that creates a lot of challenges in the school. So any educator will tell you a kid living in poverty brings challenges into the classroom," he said. "But when an entire school building is concentrated with low-income kids, the challenges get more difficult.”
Koprowski calls that segregation a disaster for Dallas.
The report recommends supporting increased development of mixed-income neighborhoods and more widespread acceptance of housing assistance vouchers.
Some say lawmakers should get involved.
Matt Moore, Children’s Health vice president for government relations, says elected leaders often say it’s important to improve the state of children, but they don’t necessarily take action.
“So, I think that the interest is there; we see it from both sides of the aisle,” Moore says. “We see it among the deepest of red tea party members; we see it among the most blue of liberal members. The interest is there, but it just seems that, right now, the moment is aligned against us.”
That leaves nonprofits, like the North Texas Food Bank, education groups and health care providers, playing a big role. The goal is to help kids get the basics for success when obstacles block the way.
Dr. Williams says it all matters because she's looking to the future.
“We know that healthy kids learn better. And children who’ve learned well end up being healthier adults,” Dr. Williams says.
The report also suggests that schools prioritize support for student health and healthy behaviors by providing more nutritious meals and more physical activity and focusing on students’ behavioral and emotional health.
Read the full report